Perhaps inevitably, the Me, Too movement would uncover complicated situations that go beyond simply punishing sexual predators (which is hardly simple in itself), and in Bonnie Kistler’s new thriller, Her, Too, she reveals a bundle of them.
When the story opens, Boston-based defense attorney Kelly McCann has just won a major case. Scientist George Carlson Benedict—the beloved Dr. George—is a pharmaceutical researcher whose discoveries related to Alzheimer’s Disease have short-listed him for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Could such a valuable and visible member of society be guilty of raping a subordinate? In the trial just concluded, his former colleague Reeza Patel said yes. And so did three other women whom Kelly silenced with payoffs and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Benedict is a toad, really, but Kelly doesn’t consider him an actual rapist, until his next victim—her.
Kelly sets out for revenge. And she knows who can help. The three women who signed the NDAs, except that they hate her.
The story lays bare the manipulative and inequitable way NDAs are handled. A former executive at Benedict’s company received more than a million dollars, the office cleaner only $20,000. Kelly doesn’t draw Reeza Patel into the group’s sketchy plans—the way Kelly eviscerated her on the witness stand is just too recent, too raw. Soon, there’s no choice: Patel dies from a drug overdose. Was it really suicide? And her death is just the first.
You might think Kelly is pretty unlikable, someone who’s taken advantage of women at their most vulnerable. But the author takes pains to show she isn’t a monster. In other parts of her life, she bravely faces difficult issues involving care, caring, and letting go. These are big subjects, and in this provocative, well-written novel, the author doesn’t shrink from them.
In so many ways, the Kelly McCann you meet on page one is not the same person you leave on page 304. Go with her as she works her way through some of the most consequential social issues of our times. Bonnie Kistler is a former trial lawyer whose previous books were The Cage (or Seven Minutes Later) and House on Fire.
Reed Farrel Coleman’s new crime thriller Sleepless City is for readers who like their noir black as ink and thick as pitch. You can’t really call it a police procedural, although the main character—Nick Ryan—is a detective working in the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau, because he doesn’t follow any procedures learned in the Academy or that the higher-ups would publicly condone. Early in the story, he’s recruited to do exactly that—help the city solve intractable situations by, you might say, coloring outside the lines.
The department is beset by difficulties. The city’s waiting to erupt into chaos with the next cop-on-civilian killing. An investment fraudster has stolen billions, including police pensions, and won’t reveal where the money is. A reptilian right-wing podcaster is intent on sowing social discord and anti-police feeling with wacko conspiracy theories. Nick’s bosses would like to clear up these messes through normal channels, but it’s impossible.
Someone, Nick never knows precisely who, approaches him to use his creativity, initiative, and fearlessness to work out difficulties such as these. He’ll get whatever weaponry and manpower he needs plus access to files and security footage. Like a latter-day 007, he has a license to kill. I’m guessing, the powers-that-be hope he’ll use it.
This set-up creates a no-holds-barred fantasy of vengeance, a “simple” answer to complex questions. Although I used the word fantasy, Coleman’s writing is anchored in a gritty reality. Blood is shed. Bones are broken. Explosions dismember victims. Dirt is smeared.
Yet Nick doesn’t simply march through the city brandishing weapons and mowing down bad guys. He takes into account the consequences of his actions, their moral aspects, and selects his approach based in part on the lesson it will impart to other malefactors. In other words, he seeks justice more than revenge. Seeing his various clever plots unfold—and how he has to think on his feet when something goes awry—is one of the story’s chief pleasures. Plus, I chuckled to notice Coleman’s discreet nod to his fellow NYC crime writers Tom Straw and Charles Salzberg.
As a reflection of breakdowns in the social order, crime writing deserves the kind of attention to what makes the social order actually work that Coleman gives it here. Nick Ryan may be a fantastical creation, in terms of his deeds, but in terms of engaging with the quandaries facing big-city policing, he’s wrestling with modern reality. Sleepless City leaves you wondering, is this what it takes? Sounds to me like a series in-the-making.